Issue Date: September 19, 2011
Different Strokes For Different Chemists
As a 50-plus-year ACS member, I have been reading C&EN for many years. Every time I read an editorial by Rudy Baum, I bite my tongue to resist responding. Many letters to the editor have stated that C&EN should not be a platform for Baum’s political viewpoints, a position with which I totally agree.
The Aug. 22 issue (page 5) was the final straw. Of nine letters to the editor, eight of them dealt with the pros and cons of his July 18 editorial (page 3) and only one was written about a subject that did not involve Baum. What is wrong with this picture?
The letters to the editor should reflect responses to the many fine articles in every issue. Baum should not be the center of attention and should not distract from the technical and news content of the magazine.
In the past I have spoken to some members of the C&EN staff and expressed my views that Baum’s editorials were a distraction from the technical content of the magazine. I was told by one staffer that they thought the controversies stirred up by Baum were a good thing because they encouraged responses by the readers. I disagree that this type of response is useful to the majority of readers.
I suggest one of two solutions: Either Baum eliminates his liberal-slanted political rhetoric or he is replaced as editor-in-chief. I prefer the latter solution.
John P. Sibilia
I always enjoy reading Baum’s editorials (maybe because they very often reflect, in an elegant two-column reduction to the essentials, my own ideas). I loved the editorial concerning what kind of nation the U.S. is becoming. I thought the examples were well chosen, and that Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) probably doesn’t understand the arithmetic Baum did.
More broadly, I find it frightening that the U.S. House and Senate contain people who made a “pledge,” signing a document before even taking office that limits what they will be able to do to improve the well-being of the nation. This, coupled with the dogmatism, stubbornness, lack of imagination, and jackboot conservatism of many Tea Party folks is at the moment, I think, the greatest threat to the country.
As Baum points out, it’s still an amazing country that can do incredible things. But it seems to me that the folks on Capitol Hill (especially those newly elected) need an introduction not only to science but to arithmetic, civics, psychology, and even the philosophy of governance. Lacking that, it is hard to see any direction for this country except straight downward.
Science offers some of the answers, but not to people whose minds are made up before they start. It’s a grim situation, and I think it’s probably safe to fear (as I do) for the republic. So, keep it up!
The stated mission of C&EN is to cover science and technology, business and industry, government and policy, education, and employment aspects of the chemistry field. Does Baum sometimes stray a little from the stated mission? Yes. Do I always agree with what he has to say? No. Do I always like what he has to say? No. But I look forward to reading what he has to say each week, and I prefer to live in a world where not everyone agrees with me and where people can discuss topics other than the ones that I think are important.
Among the letters critical of Baum in the Aug. 22 issue was one in particular that caught my eye. In his letter, Gary Banuk complains that he is “getting tired of reading Baum’s editorials on politics and social issues.” He goes on to say, “If a chemist wants to come out of the closet, I hope that it is to announce a new discovery in chemistry. Please save that type of editorial material for the newspapers.”
I assume that Banuk is referring to Linda Wang’s article, “Coming Out in the Chemical Sciences” (C&EN, May 23, page 41). Members of ACS should be proud of the diversity within its membership and should celebrate it. We are chemists first, but we can and should think about and discuss topics other than the latest discovery in chemistry. I enjoy reading about issues related to women in chemistry (“Gender Gap Holds Constant,” C&EN, Aug. 29, page 28; “Progress of Women in Academic Science,”C&EN, Oct. 18, 2010, page 32) as much as I look forward to being educated about problems faced by black chemists (“Race and Federal Grants,” C&EN, Aug. 22, page 8). I think C&EN is a perfectly appropriate place to learn about what is being done to advance the progress of our Hispanic and Native American members (“SACNAS Opens Office in ACS,” C&EN, Aug. 23, 2010, page 55).
It is unfortunate that Banuk seems uncomfortable with the idea that a chemist may choose to be public about his or her sexual orientation. In the workplace, if chemists wish to openly discuss what they did last weekend, what their vacation plans are with their partner, or whom they went to the movies with last night, they should be able to do so openly and freely regardless of whether their partner is of the same or opposite sex. ACS is a huge organization; we should celebrate the diversity found within it—even on the pages of C&EN.
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